Note: This is Part 2 of a five-part series on why high school graduates in the United States should skip college. If you aren’t young and you aren’t planning to go to school, that’s cool. Please read on. There is value in this piece for anyone interested in traveling.
“But H.I., you’re young and you’ve got your health, what you want with a job?”
Evelle, played by William Forsythe, from the movie Raising Arizona.
I know, I know.
A middle class white guy talking about traveling. How everyone needs to do it. How beneficial it is. Life-changing n’ shit.
How original right?
Look, I know that I have lived a blessed life. I am aware that I cannot even begin to imagine the struggles that some young people go through.
But honestly, if you are thinking about attending college and you are not 100% dependent on financial aid and scholarships, you should really consider traveling instead.
If you are in a situation where you are 100% (or even 90%) dependent on financial aid and scholarships for college, you are likely in a tough spot and won’t be able to save money on a monthly basis in order to travel.
In this case, you just need to get the eff out of where you are and college is likely your best bet. Go to school.
But if not, and you have the ability to save some scrilla’ each month, not only is there no better teacher than long-term travel, but it is also significantly cheaper than even just a year in college.
With a little hard work, some planning and a little creativity, a nice long-term trip (2-3 months +) can be done for about $5,000.
Scroll to the end and I will give you a step-by-step plan on how to make this happen.
This is not too shabby for a live, hands-on, fun-as-hell masterclass in adventure, humanity and culture.
As Mark Twain once wrote:
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
Translation: You gotta see the world before you can understand it. And you must experience it before you begin to find your place in it.
It’s downright silly to be 18 years old and to expect to know what to do with your life.
There is a reason why most Scandinavian countries – you know, the part of the world that had the TOP SIX happiest populations according to the 2017 World Happiness Report – encourage young people to take at least one year off to travel before attending university.
Traditional thinking might lead some people to tell you that traveling is just an excuse for you to fuck off and forget about “the real world.”
And these people (whoever they may be) would be right.
You’re only young once. If you have the chance, you might as well enjoy it.
There will always be time for college and houses and cars and bills and families and all of the responsibilities that come with adult life.
Plus, if you think about it, college is the same “fuck off and forget about the real world” experience as traveling. Very little about lush college campuses resembles “the real world.”
So, if you are a high-school student uncertain about what to do after graduation, here are a few reasons why I think long-term traveling, and not going directly to college, is the best way for you to invest your time.
1) Traveling opens your mind to the possibility that you don’t know it all
Ignorance comes from arrogance.
One of the keys to learning is being able to admit that you don’t know it all. Or even a lot. Once you do this, it becomes much easier to you listen and receive information with an open mind.
Traveling makes you less certain about how much you know because it shows you just how big the world is and just how little you know about it.
Every country, every culture and every new person you meet while traveling will introduce you to something new.
I remember sitting in a small bar in Seoul, South Korea with two friends from Ireland. One of them had recently returned from Cambodia and they were talking about the killing fields in Phnom Penh and the Khmer Rouge.
“What?” I asked.
“The Khmer Rouge,” one of them replied.
You’re kidding, right?” one of them blurted out.
“Nope. What’s the Khmer Rouge? Some kind of a place?” I asked.
“The Khmer Rouge was a commy group en Cambodia that killed millins’ of peeple sham,” my other friend answered. “They killed anyon ey’ considered was intellectual. They threw babies inta’ trees, forced teenagers inta’ labor camps… It’s considered one of the worst genocides ever.”
“Oh,” I said as I quickly sipped my beer.
It’s good to feel this type of “damn I am a total dummy” embarrassment.
It’s humbles you.
And this humbling is the first step towards accepting that you don’t know as much as you thought you did. Which is important because once you eliminate your own ego from the equation, your ability to learn, no matter if it is in a college classroom or in a small bar on a cold Friday night, improves greatly.
2) Traveling forces change
“To improve is to change, to perfect is to change often”
– Winston Churchill
As humans, we naturally avoid change. We don’t like it. We want to follow the path of least resistance and do what is familiar.
Traveling forces change.
The obvious change is the change in scenery.
But once you are traveling, unless you decide to stay in one hotel room all day and order cheeseburgers for every meal, you will eventually have to do things that are new for you.
You will sleep in strange places. You will travel differently, eat different foods and follow different cultural norms. You will be forced to do step outside your comfort zone.
And through it all, you will eventually come to the realization that “Hey, this works too.” That different isn’t so bad. That foods you might never considered trying are actually delicious. That what you feared wasn’t that scary after all. That maybe the way you do things in your country isn’t the best way.
Change is one of the only constants in life. No matter what, things will change. How you look, who your friends are, what you do for work…
Learning to be adaptable will help you, no matter where you go or what you do. And there is no better place to learn how to adapt than while traveling.
3) Traveling offers more (and better) experiences
We are the sum of what we experience. Each experience we have; good, bad and everything in-between; alters who we are and our perspective of the world. The more experiences we have, the more detailed our view becomes.
So much is made of the experience of going to college. But comparing the experiences you get from attending college to the experiences you get while traveling is like comparing a little league baseball team to the 1927 New York Yankees.
There is no communications course in existence whose curriculum can replicate the experience of having to communicate with someone who speaks 0% of the same language as you.
There is no college campus whose beauty can match the streets of Lisbon or the temples of Bagan or the valleys of Patagonia.
There is no culinary class that can replicate the smells and sounds and flavors of the night markets in Thailand.
And for those of you reading this who equate “experiencing” with “partying”…. trust me when I say there is no fraternity party that can match the vibe found in a Colombian salsa bar on a Saturday night. I’ve had better parties and met more interesting people staying in hostels than I ever did during my entire two years in a dorm. In most countries around the world the drinking age is 18 and drugs are readily accessible.
If want to tear the club up, you can.
4) Travel toughens you up
Life is what it is. There are certain things we just cannot change.
Learning to accept what we cannot change and focus our energy on what we can is another one of those crucial life skills.
There are all kinds of frustrating things that happen to you while you are traveling. Overnighters in airports. Bus delays. Over-bookings. Lost possessions.
I have had 18 hour bus rides turn into 38 hour debacles where the entire bus of passengers ended up riding in the back of a semi-trailer.
I have had my passport stolen two days before a scheduled cross-Atlantic flight.
I have gotten deathly ill on day 2 of a 4 day trek through the Peruvian Andes and had to have a friend walk with me step-by-step to the finish line.
I have shivered myself to sleep for weeks in the freezing cold of Patagonia in a sleeping bag that ended at my shoulders.
And while each of these experiences sucked, I am a much better person because of them. I accepted the circumstances and persevered. I am tougher, more patient, more self-sufficient and calmer in the face of difficulty.
5) Traveling is twice as educational and twice as fun
I hate running. There are few things in the world I would rather do less than go for a long run. But I play basketball three times a week. And basketball involves a lot of running.
So why do I play basketball if I hate running?
Because when I play basketball I’m not thinking about the fact that I am running. I am too busy having fun. I am talking trash or playing defense or thinking about how I can get to the hoop.
This is how it is with traveling and personal growth.
You will grow exponentially as a person from your travels, but you will be having too much fun to even realize it.
In fact, most of the changes you see in yourself will not be realized until after your trip. There will be too many cool places to visit and new foods to try and interesting people to talk to and great parties to throw yourself into.
I have yet to meet one person who has regretted their decision to move abroad or to go travel. None. It just doesn’t happen.
Because traveling is the shit.
Here is my final point.
I have yet to talk with an elderly person about my travels and have them respond negatively. Their responses are almost always along the lines of:
“Oh, how interesting. Good for you.”
“You go do it, enjoy your time being young.”
Old people get it. They are close to death and they know just how important it is to live.
So for all 18-year olds out there without a post high-school plan, stop worrying about having a plan for life and take a couple years to just enjoy it.
You are as young, energetic, attractive and physically fit as you may ever be. Don’t waste this gift.
You won’t be able to hike or surf or party in your 60’s like you can in your 20’s. You won’t be able to date or dance in your 60’s as you can in your 20’s. Your youth is a fleeting commodity. Make the most of it.
How to Travel the World with $5,000
To get crackin’, there are really only two things you need to do.
1) Save money.
Download a budgeting app, set goals and stick to them. Work two jobs. Three, if you have to. You are going to have the time of your life on this trip, but nothing worth having in life is free. This is where the hard work comes in.
Before I left to travel to South America, I worked as a substitute Spanish teacher (I spoke zero Spanish), a server (I once spilled an entire glass of red wine on a woman), a bartender and as a barback at a Tiki bar.
You can have zero shame when it comes to finding and applying for jobs. You’re not too cool, you’re not too good and I guarantee that just about any job you take is gonna teach you something.
Jobs where you can make cash tips are great because you can make an extra 30% on every cash tip because you aren’t paying taxes on that income. Plus these jobs have high turnover rates and evening shifts, which means people won’t miss you when you leave and you can work another job during the day.
Another lucrative way to make money would be to work as an apprentice. As I cover in Part 3 of this series, there is a MASSIVE demand for skilled trades apprentices. The average apprentice’s salary in the US is about $15 / hour, which is almost double than the national minimum wage.
It is not the worst idea to work for a year or two, save money for traveling while also learning a skill (carpentry, for example) that you cash in on while traveling.
Live at home with your parents and try to save on rent. If not your parents, ask a family member. Tell them your plans and why you are trying to save money. Tell them you will be working your ass off and that you really just need a place to crash. Tell them you’ll help with rent and groceries.
If you don’t have a car or can’t afford insurance, ride a bike. If you don’t have a bike, steal one. Just kidding. Sorry, I had to do anything to break up all the strict instructions.
The point is that this is not going to be easy, or pretty, but that it can be done if you sacrifice and put in the work.
If you can work 60 hours a week at $8 / hour, you will make about $1,920 a month. Assuming about 30% of this will go to taxes, you will take home about $1,344.
From this, you set aside $400 a month for your travels. This will leave you with $944 to live off of. It’s not much, but you’ll be living with family and working all the time, so what do you need money for?
After one year, you will have saved $4,800.
If you have any savings, can get any help from your parents or are able to start saving while still in high school, you can likely do this in much less time.
$5,000 is the goal.
If you book your flight far enough in advance, you can get a one-way ticket just about anywhere for around $500. Save another $500 for your ticket home (that you do not book ahead of time) and you still have $4,000.
Save $500 to live off of for when you come home and you have $3,500 to travel with.
You gotta have cash to travel. But you don’t need a lot. Places like Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe and South American can be very affordable to travel in. In fact, traveling cheap money is sometimes better. Money suffocates creativity. Not having a lot will force you to get out of your comfort zone more and to be more creative with how you get around.
If money is really tight, there are fantastic websites such as – https://www.workaway.info/ – that connect volunteers with hosts from around the world. Some jobs are paid but others require you to volunteer in exchange for free room and board. Jobs range from working the front desk at a hostel in Ibiza to harvesting the wine fields of Mendoza, Argentina to helping to build a deck for a hostel in Budapest.
Facebook groups are also a great way to find volunteering jobs. In almost any South American country you can type in “Voluntario” followed by the name of a country and you will find a Facebook group where volunteering positions are posted daily.
I have met numerous people who have traveled long-term (1 year +) simply working volunteer job to volunteer job. They save a small nest egg of money, select a place that interests them, work for a month in that place and then move on to the next destination. In-between jobs, they will take some time to explore the regions that they are in.
The hardest step will be to go.
You will find 100 reasons not to go. You will avoid booking your flight. And you will not be alone in feeling this way. Myself and every other person who has gone abroad has felt scared and nervous and uncertain. This is normal.
This feeling of fear is a good thing. It means you are breaking through the atmosphere of your own comfort zone.
Do not be overly picky about where you go and try not to plan too much. Find a place that interests you and go. The travel gods favor decisiveness.
I know that it seems terrifying, but it’s not. You will be fine.
And if you ever find yourself doubting your decision to travel, remember that you can always come back. Or leave. You are not signing up for a tour of duty in Afghanistan. If you travel someplace and don’t like it, just move on. If you travel and find that you actually hate traveling, you can always go right back home.
But at least you’ll be able to say you went for it.
Here are some quick general tips for first timers. There is a complete list of resources below:
- Don’t book a return ticket
- Only stay in hostels (you’ll meet so many more people)
- Try a homestay volunteering in some way. It is a great way to meet friendly locals. See: https://www.workaway.info/
- Start your trip with the safe parts of the world (Asia / Europe) and make your way up to the big leagues (Central America / Africa)
- Smile at everyone you meet
Below is a list of websites, apps and resources to hopefully help you on your travels.
Yourself – You will learn more from talking with other travelers than you ever will from a blog. Be friendly at hostels. Ask lots of questions. Travelers are cool people and will be happy to share some inside tips.
Google Maps – Most people don’t know this because they live in a world of perpetual 4G data, but Google Maps actually works offline.
Maps.me – Fantastic GPS app that works offline, in case you do not have a data plan in the city you are in. I have literally used this app to navigate off-road trekking trails in Patagonia. It is incredible. You simply download the regional map for each new country or city you go to, and bam, you are set.
Here WeGo Offline Maps – Self-explanatory. Another great offline maps service.
Google Translate – Self-explanatory.
WhatsApp – WhatsApp is the messaging app of choice for most of the world. It is completely free and works with WI-FI. Download it. Use it.
Uber – Uber may the most controversial ride-sharing app, but it is the most widely adopted. It is often one of the safest and cheapest transportation services in many countries. My average cross-city Uber ride in Medellin, Colombia is $3.
**It is important to note that Uber is illegal in many countries but still somehow operational (???) You will likely be asked to sit in the front seat and pretend you are a friend of the driver if the police ask any questions.**
Rome2Rio – “Discover how to get anywhere by plan, train, bus ferry and automobile. Planes, trains, buses and boats.” Rome2Rio is a multi-modal transport search engine. It will provide you with different options and pricing for how to get from one place to the next.
The Internet – If you are curious about traveling to a specific place, do what all seasoned travelers do. Google it. Travel blogs are helpful. The ones with less personal information are usually more reliable. Try to read a couple different posts by different travelers. Here are a couple of travel blogs I particularly like:
https://www.thebrokebackpacker.com/ – Great travel site with spot-on advice and extensive travel guides. A LOT of useful information for budget travelers.
https://www.danflyingsolo.com – Another great travel blog with advice on some far-out locations. The owner of the site has a good outlook and solid traveling advice.
https://www.nomadicmatt.com/ – Great travel blog with in-depth travel guides on places all over the world.
https://passionpassport.com – This website is fantastic. It has an extensive collection of in-depth travel guides. It has cool photos. It also has cool series like the “featured Instagram traveler of the week” that allow you to briefly meet regular, everyday travelers.
PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES
https://www.skyscanner.com – Skyscanner is a website for booking cheap flights. A staple site to check for flights for almost all seasoned travelers.
https://www.momondo.com/ – Similar to Skyscanner, Momondo is a great site to use when searching for flights.
https://www.kiwi.com – Again, another great site to use to book cheap flights. They also have a nomad option that can help you to book flights for a long-term trip with several destinations
https://www.scottscheapflights.com – All in the name. One more fantastic site for booking cheap international flights.
https://www.Rome2Rio.com – Rome2Rio is a website designed to help you plan trips. The site can provide a combination of bus, train and ferry combinations to get you were you need to go. In my opinion, it is silly to have a detailed itinerary when traveling. But Rome2Rio can help find creative traveling options when in a pinch.
https://www.busbud.com/en – Great website for finding and booking buses anywhere in the world.
https://www.Hostelworld.com – The world’s premier website for booking hostels. If you are under 27, DO NOT stay in hotels while traveling. They are expensive and waaaaayyy less fun. Hostels are incredible places to meet other travelers and pick up tips for the road. Fuck what you have seen in movies. Hostels are great. Buy beers, smile, ask questions and watch the magic happen.
https://www.AirBnB.com – If you are looking for something a little more private than a shared dorm in a hostel, AirBnB is your best bet. You can find individual rooms in many countries for as little as $12 a night. Try to stay with local families. Often, your hosts will help to enhance your experience.
https://www.homestay.com/ – Is a great site for finding… yep, you guessed it.. home stays. Again, another cool way to meet locals and have a more authentic experience.
https://www.workaway.info/ – An amazing site for finding volunteer working opportunities abroad. The most common arrangement is labor for free room and board. Working different jobs through this site can be a great way to meet people and get to know some locals from the places you visit.
https://www.facebook.com/groups/slowtravelvolunteer/ – This is a very active Facebook group that posts volunteering job openings in countries all over the world. The typical arrangement with most postings is room and board in exchange for free labor.
https://www.trustedhousesitters.com – By far the largest and most trusted site for house-sitting. Looking for a cool way to live abroad for free? Try working as a house-sitter. People pay good money to have someone look after their home and/or pets while they jet-set around the world. The sign-up fee is a little high, but think, if you are able to stay someplace for free for only one month, you will have easily saved $300.
https://www.transitionsabroad.com/ – TranstionsAbroad has all sorts of wonderful information about working, interning, living or studying abroad.
https://www.cheapestdestinationsblog.com/ – This website has great info on how to live and travel for cheap in different places around the world.
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